Norwich will feel aggrieved that they lost their game against Arsenal following Turner’s opener, especially in the somewhat absurdist manner in which it happened. That seems to have been the story thus far this season for the ever-industrious Chris Hughton team. In Reading, they meet a team who managed to somehow claw to a point over Liverpool. Well, actually there is little mystery to that, the keeper McCarthy gave what Rodgers described as the best goalkeeping performance he had ever seen. But away from home the motivation will not be the same for a team that has consistently revealed the lack of quality that they possess. Norwich to get the three points at 7/10.
It sounds weird, but QPR will probably be going into this match with more confidence than a Stoke team in free-fall. And it’s not as if they can rely on their usual firebrand approach of immense physicality, as QPR are one of the teams who can actually match them in that department. Remy and Townsend have been quite effective going forward in recent weeks for the London team, and I feel that they will expose the vulnerable and cumbersome Stoke defence. Tony Pulis and his team probably never counted on this game having so much significance when they were the best home team in Europe, and it is probably this complacency that sees them in this sticky position. QPR at 12/10 it is.
How does that saying go? Something about how at least the buses ran on time. Terrible political allusions aside, Paolo Di Canio could not have wished for a more poetic start to his career with Sunderland. Given the misgivings surrounding his fascist inclinations, probably more people are polarised by some of his wild celebrations. But you can’t deny his enthusiasm hasn’t rubbed off. Three cracking goals. Sessegnon looked a different player, while Johnson was cutting in from the right onto his left foot. But in Everton they find a team with a great deal of resolve who seem to have found an injection from players such as Mirallas and Gibson at the right time. There is little chance Sunderland can lift themselves again from last week’s high. Everton to win, perhaps Anichebe will find the net, with Coleman and Baines wreaking havoc on the flanks. A nice price on Everton, grab them at 12/10.
It is probably the best compliment that you could pay West Brom when you say that you kind of forgot they were in the league. They have securely nestled themselves into a place of comfort, the still comparatively small club managing to infiltrate the big boys extremely effectively. The one thing they will miss next season is Romelu Lukaku, who will almost certainly return to his parent club Chelsea. But you know Steve Clarke will roll with the punches. Newcastle could not have asked for a worse result last week, a result that puts Pardew’s 8-year contract under a serious microscope. The introduction of such a strong French contingent seems to have actually unsettled the stability of the club, regardless of the quality of the players. Such a seismic shift has not been seamlessly assimilated, and I sense a battling point for the Magpies in what could still turn out to be a disastrous season for them. The draw is tipped at 24/10.
West Ham have picked up eleven points out of a possible fifteen, beginning to show their top flight credentials. Andy Carroll has finally started to influence games in a tangible sense, and Wigan will do well to counteract his physical threat. Wigan will no doubt be delighted at qualifying for the FA Cup final, but they know what the bread and butter is. They were very efficient in their narrow loss to the champions on Wednesday, with Callum McManaman showing that in the aftermath of his horror tackle earlier in the season, he is a real talent. This is a tough one because Wigan always seem to have a late surge that is antithetical to form. I’ll go for another draw at 24/10, with Carroll and Kone being a threat to both defensive systems.
This should be one for lovers of the aesthetics. Two teams with distinctly European approaches meet up in a game that has no real significance, other than possible Europa League places. Southampton’s Rodriguez, Lalanna, Puncheon and Lambert have all been inspired of late, and Swansea have definitely lost some of their lustre since their Capital One Cup victory. This leads me to side with Southampton, who just seem invigorated and keen to play every time I see them. So in the battle of the almost post-modern European stylistics, Southampton should come out on top, Rodriguez once again playing a starring role. Southampton at 2/1 is the bet of the weekend.
Tottenham Hotspurs have been out of action for some time now and a tough task awaits in the resurgent Manchester City. With the fabric of the European qualification so tenuous they know they will probably need to get something from this match. The problem is that without the talismanic figure of Gareth Bale and his vital game-breaking moments, they just look impotent in front of goal. Adebayor has quite frankly cut a forlorn figure, his penalty against Basel encapsulating his entire attitude. Sigurdsson and Dembele pale in comparison to the likes of Silva and Aguero, while Carlos Tevez is starting to look the part again. I feel that this weekend could mark the psychological defeat of Spurs in their quest for the top four. Tevez and Aguero will dominate proceedings. City at 5/4 is the tip.
Liverpool have always been something of a bogey team for Chelsea, with the added pressure of a return to Anfield for both Torres and Benitez. They still cheer Rafa on the terraces of Anfield, an irony that will not be lost on the interim manager of Chelsea. Despite their defeat in the Cup to City, Chelsea have started to look fairly consistent in the league. It’s a rare thing that a team wins the European Cup one year, is knocked out the next year, and still seem to look a better team. Liverpool must be frustrated having played out to two consecutive 0-0 draws in recent weeks, a testament to their solidity but lack of a cutting edge. Luis Suarez has been fairly inefficient recently, a sight that might concern some Liverpool fans amidst reports of Bayern Munich’s interest. I expect Suarez to end his drought but Chelsea should get something in a hard-fought draw at 24/10.
Manchester United will be looking to bounce back from some indifferent form with a resounding home victory over a spirited Villa team. The return to goal scoring form of Van Persie will be greatly encouraging to Sir Alex, as the Dutch star has Suarez firmly in his sights. The physical presence of Benteke will not have as much effect here in a fairly isolated role. Sir Alex will be hoping that Rooney can snap out of his lethargic slump of form that probably stems from positional uncertainty. Regardless, United should win at a canter. For some value, take them on the goal handicap at 13/20.
The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your EPL tips and multiples below.